Sucre – the second

Sucre – the second

You need to walk around the streets a bit to pick up on Sucre’s little quirks. For a start, it’s the chocolate capital of Bolivia, famed for producing wonderful, mainly dark chocolate that vies with the Ecuadorian stuff to be the finest in South America. The range of flavours is breath-taking and audacious; for example (and this is not an exhaustive list) you can have the very ‘ordinaire’ plain, bitter, bitter intenso or plain eased back with some milk; you can do the whole fruit and nuts thing, or mint, ginger, coffee, orange and various other fruit flavours; or why not try the uber-trendy salted chocolate or the one laced with chilli; and finally, for the ultimate Bolivian twist on chocolate, choose the quinoa or its cereal relation, the amaranth. Chocolate shops greet you at the airport when you arrive and tempt you again when you leave and they do a roaring trade in the centre of town too.

Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that Sucre has, admittedly on a fairly unscientific reckoning, the world’s highest per capita concentration of dentists! The empirical evidence is compelling; as you walk its narrow streets you come across a ridiculous number of dentists, orthodontists, dental infirmaries or plain clinicas dental. No kidding, you will never want for a filling in this town. That the abundance of professionals is actually securing good dental health for the population, however, is questionable given the manifestly poor state of a lot of teeth in the city. This applies especially to the indigenous people over the age of about 30 and by the time they are in their 50s or 60s the teeth are in a very sorry state and gaps outnumber gnashers by about 2:1.

Judging exactly who fits the 50s-60s age group, however, is tough; it’s really hard to tell how old people are, especially the indigenous people. And this is another striking thing about being in Sucre after a city like Buenos Aires with its European-looking population – the people here are predominantly indigenous, or at least ‘mestizo’, blending in a bit of Hispanic. This was true in Santa Cruz although there the impact was less powerful because of the style of dress, homogenised Western style being the norm. Not so in Sucre. Although the young people are largely dressed in the global uniform of youth, denim jeans + t-shirt combo, lots of the middle-aged and older adults wear the traditional dress of the Andes. It is these people with their weather-hardened faces that it’s difficult to age. The very old, tiny in stature, deeply lined faces often with emaciated bodies bent over from age or from a lifetime of unremitting physical labour and poor nutrition – they seem incalculably old but it strikes me they may not be.